Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Towsley Canyon Exploratory

Towsley Canyon
I've probably driven I-5 north from Los Angeles to Santa Clarita and beyond hundreds of times in the past couple of years. On most of those occasions, I think I've probably also looked at the parking area on the west side of the freeway just off of Calgrove Boulevard and wondered about the local trails leading west from there. But wonder is all I ever did. I never actually stopped to explore because the hills seemed low, the topography uninteresting, and the trails excessively urban. To reinforce this feeling of apathy, just before the Calgrove Boulevard exit, there's a big sign on the side of the freeway telling you that Calgrove is the exit to take for the Michael D. Antonovich Open Space. I've been to the Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park at Joughin Ranch above Porter Ranch before and honestly it's not that swell. So I figured how much better could Michael Antonovich's Open Space be? The Angeles and Los Padres, both of which are nearby and easily accessibly, are far more worthy destinations. So even though I knew there were trails in the area, I never really felt any compulsion to stop and stay for awhile.

Then on Saturday, I found myself with a couple of hours from heaven so I decided to get out and go exploring. It was already past noon so it had to be local. But I didn't have an appetite for familiar local. I wanted new local.

As I started looking at maps, Towsley Canyon, the place I had dismissed and eschewed for all of these years, jumped out at me. It was local. It was new. And it was short. Bam! I grabbed my pack, jumped in the car, and headed out.

Towsley Canyon is one of several units that comprise the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park. The other component units are (1) Pico Canyon, (2) East and Rice Canyon, (3) the Michael D. Antonovich Open Space, and (4) O'Melveny Park.  In addition to a 6 mile loop trail, Towsley Canyon is home to Ed Davis Park and the Towsley Lodge, an old Spanish-style ranch house that can be reserved for private functions.

The trail through Towsley Canyon begins as a poor asphalt road in the parking area immediately off of The Old Road. Actually, that description is somewhat confusing as there are 3 parking areas immediately west of The Old Road: one along the shoulder of The Old Road, a larger and more official looking one just as you enter the park, and then a third small weird lot still further in. The first two parking areas are free; the third one costs $7. Unsurprisingly, no one parks in the small, weird area for which you have the privilege of paying $7 to avoid walking an extra 0.10 miles.

The road into the park leisurely winds its way through the canyon bottoms for about 0.50 miles to Ed Davis Park. There, the Don Mullally trails splits off from the main road, ascends the southern slope of the canyon, and then drops into adjacent Wiley Canyon.

Continuing up Towsley, the asphalt disappears and the road slowly begins to narrow eventually becoming a foot path. As the trail constricts so too do the canyon walls which began to close in around you. Here, you enter the Narrows where the geology becomes interesting as the trail passes through the Pico Anticline. The canyon is well shaded along this stretch and is bounded by intermittent Towsley Creek.

Towsley Canyon Narrows
Leaving the Narrows
View Back Through the Narrows
Beyond the Narrows, the canyon opens up considerably, the land spreads out, and the trail begins to climb the exposed southern slope to the ridge that separates Towsley and Wiley canyons. A fairly obvious, yet "unofficial" use path continues west along the creek allowing for additional exploration.

I stuck to the main trail this day, although the "unofficial" path looked intriguing. I'll have to save that option in my memory banks and return to have a look in the future. As for the official trail, it continues to switch-back up to the top of the ridge, passing a messy oil seep along the way and affording really nice views north to the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond. Once you achieve the ridge, there are a couple of places to put down for a bit while you admire the fine scenery, including a flat with a couple of majestic Coastal Live Oak trees.

Looking Into Towsley Canyon from the Don Mullally Trail
View Across Towsley Canyon from the Don Mullally Trail
View North from the Crest
Santa Clarita and Beyond
Coast Live Oak
Beyond the ridge, the trail starts an incremental descent into the cool and shade of Wiley Canyon. The day I was there, the look and feel of autumn was in the air. Once at the canyon bottom, the trail (which gradually widens into a fire road as you descend and track east) follows a creek bed that carries the occasional whiff of seeping oil. Further down canyon, the trail intersects the Don Mullally Trail that track north, crosses the ridge again, and deposits you back into Towsley Canyon at Ed Davis Park where an ample lawn and multiple picnic tables greet you. 

Now that I've been to Towsley Canyon, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. It's kind of a cool place. For an urban hike, it offers much more than I expected and certainly more than its unattractive location immediately off the I-5 would suggest.

Fall Colors in Wiley Canyon
Interesting Rock Formations in Wiley Canyon
View Into Towsley Canyon from the Bill Mulally Connector Trail
Ed Davis Park in Lower Towsley Canyon
Man that's a dry and clinical write-up. Apologies. I'll try to do better next time.


  1. Looks like some peaklets and ridge lines worth further exploration, and they may not be east to reach. It's a pretty diverse area based on your pictures. I'd say it was a good investment of time.

    1. If you're a geology geek, there is some pretty interesting rock in the area as well. Another one of my friends tells me you can achieve Oat Mountain and Mission Peak from East Canyon. Didn't you go up Mission Peak when you came up this way to hike Rocky Peak?

  2. Mmmm...new local. Thanks for the report. I've found that trying something substantially new is rarely boring--to the explorer type.

  3. Mmmm...new local. Thanks for the report. I've found that trying something substantially new is rarely boring--to the explorer type.